He was born with a congenital amputation of his left arm. An arm that ends just past his elbow leaving him with a partial forearm and no hand. He is not as some recent web site headlines declared “a one arm fighter.” Nor as undoubtedly the most absurd question in the long lines of The QUESTION, “Do you get an advantage with one arm?”
It hasn’t been sympathy or luck that has gotten Newell to this point with an 11-0 record, 8 wins coming by submission. It isn’t good fortune that has him in the WSOF title fight against champion Justin Gaethje this weekend.
Before taping an interview with “Inside MMA” from his Milford, Connecticut home, Newell addressed another question that had been posed in a separate interview with Gaethje. This one was more of a statement, an honest appraisal fighters give as a scouting report. Gaethje, like Newell has a collegiate wrestling background, but has 9 knockouts on his 11-0 record. He is the most accomplished striker Newell will have faced and wondered about Newell’s ability to defend punches and kicks from his left side.
Newell immediately was ready with an answer. For this was not the perfunctory things he’s heard ad nauseam, this is the real deal, the only legitimate question actually about this showdown.
“I can block with my left side. I have already. I hope he does come in with that as his only game plan. One thing I pride myself on is not being a certain type of fighter though some think so. I’m not a big ego guy, I just want to win. I’ve always had better footwork, and fighting strikers in the past I have used that to get to the ground. I am an exciting fighter, I’m active and that’s what I will bring to the cage like always,” he smiled, pleased with the assessment. Perhaps as well with actually talking about the fight.
Newell is not unaware of his increasingly high profile or how it has impacted others with similar conditions. He is actively involved with The Lucky Fin Project for children with missing limbs. The name taken from the animated movie “Finding Nemo” showcases that being different doesn’t mean being disadvantaged. Their mission statement is to “celebrate, educate, support and unite.” It could as well be that of Newell, who has received hundreds of letters, emails, and pictures from children.
“All over they are dealing with all different types of adversity. It’s been really cool to reach out to them, to encourage them to believe in themselves. I am just a hard working kid with a dream and I just keep on trucking every day.”
He found inspiration in family support as that “hard working kid,” who was never allowed to feel sorry for himself; was never given quitting as an option because something was difficult. He found a role model early, baseball pitcher Jim Abbott who played from 1989-99 in the major leagues including throwing a no-hitter for the New York Yankees. Abbott was born without a right hand and Newell remembers instantly relating when he saw him on television. “He was inspiring and just out there doing it, playing ball. Nothing given to him, he was a player like everyone else.” They have since met, Abbott from reports equally impressed with what Newell has accomplished.
By high school, Newell too felt like a peer at last. He was a wrestling star, good enough to go on a be a two-time captain of the Western New England University team. Even after turning pro with early success, there were still looks of curiosity when there were looks at all from larger organizations. The 28 year old Newell had to win a tryout tournament with the Xtreme Fighting Championship in 2010 to finally get noticed as something other than a novelty. Within two years he had gotten national exposure on AXS TV and was the XFC lightweight champion.
The fledgling WSOF saw potential star power in Newell, both as a fighter, and an inspirational story, and signed him to a multi-year contract last year. As the promotion has grown in large part due to a deal with NBC, Newell’s image has grown as well as he’s put together two impressive wins with the organization to earn the main event spot for the network TV debut.
“I came here (to the WSOF) to win a title. To now have that chance, and to be on NBC is what I have worked for, you could say all my life.”
Winning the title Saturday could also curtail the amount of times he will be asked The QUESTION again. The next one could be about how he is going to defend his belt?
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